David Shannon’s work has appeared in publications like The New York Times, Time and Rolling Stone, but he found a true calling by going back to his childhood roots.
Shannon started drawing at age five, when he wrote and illustrated his first book about a curious boy and the constant correcting of his well-meaning mother. Every page included pictures of Shannon doing things he was told not to do with the words, “No, David!” — the only words Shannon knew how to spell.
Many years later, after his mother discovered the book and sent it to him, he developed those early drawings into the semi-autobiographical book, titled No, David! It won the Caldecott Honor and became one of his most popular children’s books, elevating his career, inspiring a series, and even contributing to a traveling fine art exhibit: David (Shannon) Goes to the Museum.
The exhibit is on display Feb. 9-April 16 at Muskegon Museum of Art, having traveled for the last year. It is organized by The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas.
“His mom finding this book really catapulted him to a top-tier illustrator, which is interesting because it’s such a basic book,” said Debbie Lillick, executive director of NCCIL.
The exhibit features more than 70 works of art, including some personal mementos and sketches, but focuses on Shannon’s finished color illustrations.
“Kids love his books,” Lillick said. “His books are super popular.”
His art appeals to a wide range of ages, and this exhibit shows both children and adults that childhood pursuits can lead to successful careers. Many of his books are featured in the exhibit, along with titles he illustrated like Hiawatha and the Peacemaker and How I Became A Pirate.
“It’s a good mix of illustrations and a few sketches to show kids how a book really comes to light,” said Catherine Mott, the MMA’s curator of education.
Mott was a guest reader in a Muskegon classroom and came across the Spanish version of one of Shannon’s books, A Bad Case of Stripes, in Spanish. Many of the themes in Shannon’s books have an anti-peer pressure message and encourage children to embrace their uniqueness.
“What a great way for us to connect to our community and for them to come to the museum and see those things as artwork,” Mott said. “To make that connection for kids is always really powerful.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Shannon grew up in Spokane, Wash. and decided in high school he wanted to have a career in an art field. He studied political illustrations at the Art Center of College Design in Pasadena, Calif., and moved to New York City in 1983 to work for various magazines and newspapers.
That opened the door to book illustrations, where Shannon found his niche bringing children’s stories to life with vibrant, whimsical pictures.
Shannon, 57, has garnered international acclaim and won numerous awards as a picture-book creator since 1993, when he wrote and published his first book, How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball. Many of his children’s books draw on personal experiences and real-life characters, such as his dog in Good Boy, Fergus!, his daughter in Duck on a Bike, and his father’s fishing tales in Jangles: A BIG Fish Story.
He works with acrylic paints and has been quoted as saying: “I had no idea there were all these great stories out there. So, I took another one and another one, and the more children’s books I did, the more I realized that was really what I’d always loved to do.”
David (Shannon) Goes to the Museum
Muskegon Museum of Art
Feb. 9-April 16
Opening reception 5:30 p.m. Feb. 9
muskegonartmuseum.org, (231) 720-2570